What are Hydrolats?

When plant material is steam distilled to produce an essential oil, the water that comes off of the process has a considerable amount of essential oil in it…that water is known as a hydrolat.  Some farmers release the water from the distillation back on to the land; for years, it was considered “waste”.  But, in recent years, the value of this precious liquid has been recognized, so increasingly, more and more farmers are capturing this delightful “by-product” of distillation and offering it to companies like Wisdom of the Earth.  Hydrolats are a perfect example of an old adage in aromatherapy – “Subtle is Powerful.”  Photo above left: Essential oil from a steam distillation shown atop the water from “the cook”…the hydrolat.  Many thanks to Gary Stadler of HeartMagic.com, a producer of distillation equipment, for this picture.

An important clarification…previously, we described this product as a “hydrosol”.  However, we have recently learned that some producers are adding chemicals such as alcohol to the distillation water (perhaps to extend shelf-life) and marketing it as a hydrosol.  So, we have moved away from using the term hydrosol, and have embraced the term commonly used in Europe, “hydrolat”, to describe the pure, unadulterated product.

How is a Hydrolat Different from a “Floral Water”?

While many use the term floral water and hydrolat interchangeably, my teachers in Europe drew an important distinction between the two.  They described floral water as the mixture of an essential oil and water.  So…I have a cup of distilled water and I place 20 drops of Helichrysum italicum essential oil into it and mix it.  Do I have a Helichrysum hydrolat?  In my opinion, no I do not.  I have a mixture of water and Helichrysum.  If I am distilling Helichrysum and I capture the first water (which is said to be the most aromatic) siphoned from the distillation during the processing, then yes, I have a true Helichrysum hydrolat.

Is a floral water as potent as a hydrolat?  I think not.  During the distillation, the water cells are imbued with the Helichrysum essential oil…and have become more than the simple addition of water and essence.  They have become something unique…a hydrolat.   Reminds me of my days in science class…and the difference between a mixture and a compound.  The latter becomes something more than the mixture…a unique substance that is different than its contributing parts.  One reference actually described a mixture as an “impure substance” and a compound as a “pure substance”.

What Can Hydrolats Be Used For?

Our hydrolats are usually offered in a 4 oz (120 ml) spray bottle.  All can be used as libations…several sprays in a small glass filled with distilled water. Such libations help to open and soften communication, so they are wonderful to have when two or more people are engaged in a discussion to impart information or make decisions.  I will often invite a client to have a hydrolat libation with me prior to a consultation.  It supports the setting of a shared intention for the session and also facilitates harmony and balance between and within ourselves.  Further, applying an essence and then ingesting the hydrolat made from the same plant is a powerful practice wherein you are experiencing the full spectrum of the essential chemistry of that plant.

The spray hydrolats can be used as room fresheners (great between massage or counseling clients), in a work space, a sick room or a bathroom.  Many are excellent skin toners (such as Neroli, Geranium and Helichrysum), and are wonderful as a finishing touch for facials or at-home facial treatments.  Medicinally, they are excellent for use with very small pets such as birds, which have very little body mass.  For humans, they are powerful skin moisturizers and anti-bacterial sprays for burns, cuts or scrapes.  Finally, Helichrysum hydrosol is incredible as an eye spray…for eye irritation (from pollen or smoke, for example), eye health problems, like “pink eye” (conjunctivitis) and as a general eye wash.

A personal story…I was once sprayed with gasoline as a result of a mal-functioning gas pump.  Thank heavens we had Helichrysum hydrolat with us.  Repeated spraying of my blood-red eyes restored them to perfect functioning and health within hours.

How Should Hydrolats Be Stored to Retain Their Quality?

Unlike essential oils, which will retain their quality for years and years (even decades) if stored in dark colored bottles away from extreme temperatures, hydrolats are more perishable in nature.  Some are hardier than others, but to be on the safe side, they should be kept refrigerated, or at the minimum, away from extreme/prolonged heat or cold.  In general, they should be used within a year or two.

We offer a comprehensive array of hydrolats, including some made in the Southwest, such as Ponderosa Pine and Wild Yarrow.  Please see the Hydrolat section of our On-LiStore, for a listing of the hydrolats we currently carry.